Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Triumph of Christianity

Bart D. Ehrman has written another book that caught my eye and became part of my summer reading: The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World.   In seminary, we studied the events of the immediate centuries after the Resurrection in a class called Patristics – essentially studying the lives of the Church Fathers.  The time ran up to and past the conversion of Constantine in the year 310 CE, thus making the Christian faith the official religion of the Empire. 

Ehrman’s basic thesis is that, though Constantine is credited as a  pivotal figure in Christianity’s growth and reach, simple demographics would have led the Christian faith to become the prominent faith with or without him.  The way of Jesus was spreading rapidly. By the year 300 CE there 4 to 6 million Christians in the world. 

A few takeaways about why and how:

The Apostle Paul is given his due.  Whereas Jesus preached among the rural poor, Paul went almost exclusively to urban areas – where the population was.  When Paul went out into the Roman world, he encountered pagan gentiles who often believed in many, often localized, gods.  Had urged them to choose. For pagans, there was no interest or concern about the afterlife.  Their faith revolved around rituals.  Until they heard of Jesus. 

Christians were expected to worship one God only, as in the case with Judaism.  New believers had to leave behind their other gods. 

Christians, more than Jews before them, were eager for new converts -- and there was no need for circumcision or dietary restrictions.   Christians were convinced that they had to convert the entire world.  

They did not only associate themselves with like-minded Christians.

On page 118 Ehrman states also: “Christianity prided itself as a religion of love.”

Christianity grew through a networks of family, friends, neighbors and those they encountered during the days. 

Christianity was all-encompassing.  It had an ethic and way of thinking about God. 

Most new converts were lower-class and uneducated.  More women than men were converted.

Community was an attraction.  It offered regular weekly meetings. 

Pg. 135, “rather than being a place, the church was a community.”

Christianity offered superior health care!  When many pagans left the sick to fend for themselves, Christians took care of their sick and often died in epidemics doing just that. 

A vision of the afterlife was painted for new converts.

Miracles were important in spreading the new faith.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Biblical References to Immigrants and Refugees

Biblical References to Immigrants and Refugees

The following passages from the Bible refer to immigrants and refugees.  
All quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Genesis 3:22-24 – Adam and Eve are forced out of the Garden.
Genesis 7 and 8 – Noah builds an ark and takes refuge from the flood.
Genesis 12:1 – The call of Abram:  “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Genesis 12:10 – “Now there was a famine in the land.  So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.”
Genesis 19 – Lot takes his family and flees Sodom.
Genesis 23 – Abraham is a stranger and an alien in the land of Canaan.
Genesis 46:1-7 – Jacob moves his family to Egypt to escape the famine and reunite with Joseph.
Genesis 47: 1-6 – Joseph brings his brothers to Pharaoh and they are welcomed and given jobs.
Exodus 1:8-14 – Joseph’s generation is gone, and the Egyptians oppress the Israelites.  “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.”
Exodus 1:15-2:10 – Pharaoh orders all the Hebrew boy babies to be killed, but Moses is hidden and is saved by Pharaoh’s daughter.
Exodus 12:37-39 – The Israelites were driven out of Egypt so fast they had no time to make provisions and had to bake unleavened cakes of bread. 
Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”
Exodus 22:21 – Moses gives God’s law:  “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:9-10 and 23:22 – Moses gives God’s law:  “You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien.”
Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 – When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 24:23 – Moses receives God’s law:  “With me you are but aliens and tenants.”
Numbers 9:14 and 15:15-16 – “…you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native.”
Numbers 35 and Joshua 20 – The Lord instructs Moses to give cities of refuge to the Levites so that when the Israelites must flee into Canaan they may have cities of refuge given to them.
Deuteronomy 1:16 – “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.”
Deuteronomy 6:10-13 – The people of Israel are made aware that the land had come to them as a gift from God and they were to remember that they were once aliens.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-13 – Tithing was begun, in part, for resident aliens.
Deuteronomy 24:14   – “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land...”
Deuteronomy 24:17-18 – “You shall not deprive a resident alien...of justice.”
Deuteronomy 24:19-22 – Leave sheaf, olives, grapes for the alien.
Deuteronomy 26:5 – A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…
Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien…of justice.”
I Chronicles 22:1-2 – Aliens were important in building the temple.
I Chronicles 29:14-15 – David praises God:  “We are aliens and transients before you…”
II Chronicles 2:17-18 – Solomon took a census of all the aliens and assigned them work.
Psalm 105 – Remembering their sojourn:  “When they were few in number, of little account, and strangers in it, wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people,...”
Psalm 137:1-6 – “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
Psalm 146:9 – “The Lord watches over the strangers…”
Ecclesiastes 4:1 – “Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them.”
Isaiah 16:4 – Be a refuge to the outcasts of Moab.
Jeremiah 7:5-7 – “If you do not oppress the alien…then I will dwell with you in this place…”
Jeremiah 22:3-5 – Do no wrong or violence to the alien.
Ezekiel 47:21-22 – The aliens shall be to you as citizens, and shall also be allotted an inheritance.
Zechariah 7:8-10 – Do no oppress the alien.
Malachi 3:5 – The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.
Matthew 2:13-15 – Jesus and parents flee Herod’s search for the child.
Matthew 5:10-11 –“Blessed are those who are persecuted.”
Matthew 25:31-46 – “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Luke 3:11 – “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none…”
Luke 4:16-21 – “…Bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…sight to the blind...let the oppressed go free.”
Romans 12:13 – “Mark of the true Christian: “…Extend hospitality to strangers…”
II Corinthians 8:13-15 – “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need…”
Ephesians 2:11-22 – “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”
Hebrews 11 – “By faith Abraham…set out for a place…not knowing where he was going.”
Hebrews 13:1-2 – “…show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels…”
James 2:5 – “Has not God chosen the poor in the world…”
James 2:14-17 – “What good is it…if you say you have faith but do not have works?”
I John 3:18 – “…Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
I John 4:7-21 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…”  We love because God first loved us.” 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Meister Eckhardt

From mystic Meister Eckhardt:

Whoever holds to God, holds to both God and all virture. And what was previously the object of our seeking, now seeks you; what you hunted, now hunts you, what you fled, now flees you. This is so because the things of God cling to those people who cling to God and all those things flee them, which are unlike God and are alien to him. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To

Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To, by Lillian Daniel.

Just finished reading Lillian Daniel’s latest book.  It is written from a perspective of a mainline Christian pastor coming to terms with the reality of life in the church today.  Some good takeaways and food for thought – especially for clergy and lay leaders. 

One insight is that in the church’s effort to attract and keep visitors and members, we can easily slip into comparing ourselves to other churches by saying what and who we are not.  WE don’t judge. WE bless gay unions, etc. Daniel encourages communities to be rigorous and positive. 

She divides those who profess no religious affiliation, the ‘Nones’, into: No way; No longer; Never again; and Not yet – and she offers helpful ways to understand the differences and ways in which we can learn about the real questions they are asking.  This is important because in my 27 years of experience in parishes, I have seen much time spent on trying to “get” or “reach out” to people into the pews.  We strategize, organize, and theorize about those who have drifted away or have not yet crossed our thresholds.  And we often say: “but if you/we only did __________ (fill in the blank).”  The author prescribes instead for churches to focus on what their true message and vision is.

Here at Christ Church we, like in many churches, ring our hands with the choices families are making around Sunday morning sports.  We lament: “where are the families?”  Daniel’s advice is to return to basics: what makes the worship experience worthy of people’s time to begin with.  Stop complaining and begin again to speak the truth and offer an understanding of faith that resonates with people who are hungry for truth. 

One of my favorite quotes: "Part of the nature of religion is that it delivers a message that is like sandpaper against our culture of narcissism.  It's not all about you. And no, you can't make this stuff up."  p. 22

A good read.  Worth some conversation. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Immigrant detainees in NH

Last year I joined a team that visits the Strafford Country Department of Corrections in Dover, NH to meet with those immigrants who have been recently detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). I go as often as my schedule allows, usually once every three to four weeks. In addition, I visit the jail each month to celebrate Communion in Spanish and respond to pastoral requests that are referred to me. Occasionally, I am asked how my ministry to the immigrant detainees at is going, and I want to talk about that here. 

How do these immigrants come to be incarcerated? Frequently, cars are pulled over on the interstate highway as groups of men and women drive to and from their homes to work; some of these men and women may be detained.  Some individuals are arrested by ICE outside of courthouses and workplaces. Those undocumented immigrants who are detained/arrested in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are held at The Dover facility, which is contracted by the Federal government.  

The profiles of the men and women the team sees at the Dover facility vary.  Some of them have been living and working in this country for decades.  Some are in their mid-30s and were brought to the country as minors.  I have met some men who were political refugees from civil-war-torn West Africa who arrived in this country traumatized and, never fully assimilated into our society, became criminalized in poor and marginalized neighborhoods.  Now they are day laborers who work in dairy farms in rural Vermont, doing the back-breaking work in rural areas that American workers do not want to do. They are mothers and fathers of children born in the U.S.  They are people who have escaped gang-infested homelands, where there is little prospect for a peaceful future, who arrived to this country after a perilous journey.  Many have no criminal records. Their only crime is being undocumented.  They are from Mexico, Honduras, Romania, Serbia, Jordan, Jamaica, Cape Verde, Sudan, Liberia, Nigeria, El Salvador, Belgium, Cuba, Haiti, Iraq and many others nations. 

When I enter the facility, I bring my acquired personal political beliefs.  I do believe that every developed economy today needs a reliable and safe flow and exchange of immigrants traveling to and from their home countries to add to a thriving or developing economy. And I do believe that our prosperity has come at a cost, often born by those unseen and unknown.  Our importation of illegal drugs from this hemisphere has left the social structure of many countries south of our border in shambles.  Money and guns flow south and drugs come north. 

I also bring my faith.  The Gospels invite us to encounter Christ in and with those who are imprisoned.  There is humanity, vulnerability, regret, anguish, loneliness, fear, and longing.  Every emotion possible is on display.  

The team does not judge those whom we meet.  We listen to them and inform them of the legal rights they have.  We connect some of them to legal counsel and share with them the long and arduous process of being granted asylum. 

When I enter the jail as pastor/priest, I always remind those I meet that they will not be defined by this experience—but it will affect them.  I encourage them to be hopeful. I remind them that there are people on the outside of those walls who desire a better system to regulate the flow of migrants across borders. 

I carry their faces with me throughout my day.

I am thankful to the vestry of Christ Church, Exeter, for encouraging and supporting my work outside of the parish.

Glossary of Terms: Immigration Cheat Sheet
(Friends Visitation Manuel)
Department of Homeland Security (DHS): charged with “protecting” the United States. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security Act, DHS absorbed most of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and took on its duties. DHS split immigration-related duties between three separate agencies: (CIS)-Citizenship and Immigration Services, (ICE)-Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and (CBP)-Customs and Border Protection.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): Part of the US Department of Homeland Security, the US ICE oversees and administers all matters relating to enforcement of US immigration laws.
Immigrant: a person who comes to the U.S. in order to establish their residence here (for economic betterment, family re-unification, etc.
Undocumented: An informal term to describe noncitizens who have no government authorization to be in this country.
Refugee: a person who is outside their country and unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. (Definition in the 1951 Geneva Convention and U.S. Immigration Law).
Asylum seeker: a person seeking asylum in another country based on similar characteristics as a refugee. US immigration law requires that people who ask for asylum at an airport or point of entry into the U.S. must be detained. Affirmative asylum seekers are those who ask for asylum after entering and within 1 year of residing in the US. They are not detained.
Asylee: a person granted asylum in the United States.
Asylum office: the branch of ICE that makes decisions on asylum cases and also does ‘credible fear’ interviews in the detention centers.
Detention: People are detained at every step of the “immigration process” (1) awaiting adjudication of asylum or adjustment applications; (2) picked up and jailed without charges; (3) pending immigration proceedings; (4) after being ordered deported, while ICE is actively trying to remove them; and (5) sometimes indefinitely, when ICE knows it may not be able to deport someone with an order of deportation.
Criminal Alien: a noncitizen legally in the U.S. who has committed a felony at some time in the past and is deportable. The definition of a felony was drastically broadened by the 1996 Immigration Act.
Undocumented worker: a noncitizen in the U.S. who works without proper visas.
Deportation/Removal: Expulsion of a noncitizen from the United States. People who can be deported include noncitizens (including green card holders) with past criminal convictions; visa overstays; refugee/asylum seekers; and those who entered without inspection (for example, by crossing the border unlawfully). Once removed, a noncitizen faces legal bars for a time period that prevent his or her return or sometimes they are permanently barred.
Voluntary Departure: DHS may, in its discretion, allow a person to depart from the US at his or her own expense in lieu of being subject to proceedings. DHS will allow someone no more than 120 days to depart the US. If the person fails to deport, s/he will be subject to fines and a 10 year period of ineligibility for other forms of relief. Immigrants with aggravated felonies are ineligible for voluntary departure.

Who are Immigration Detainees?
The detention of immigrants is the fastest growing prison industry in the United
States. Every day, 34,000 immigrant detainees are held in detention centers throughout the country. Each year, between 280,000 and 300,000 immigrants are held in over 350 detention facilities, operated by the federal government, by private prison corporations or local county jails (

Detainees include both individuals and whole families, including children and asylum seekers. Immigrants from across the world are detained (imprisoned) for a variety of reasons which include but are not limited to:

·     Asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their homeland because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

·     Border crossings, for economic reasons, or waiting many years to be reunited with a family member.

·     Undocumented workers who were caught in a raid and are awaiting deportation.

·     Visa overstays: Individuals who have committed a crime, served their time, found to be without correct documented papers and are detained waiting for deportation.  Lawful permanent residents are subject to deportation for minor offenses such as buying stolen jewelry or possession of marijuana, which are misdemeanors for U.S. citizens but deportable offenses for lawful permanent residents.

Many immigrants in detention are married to U.S. citizens and have U.S.-born
children. Most immigrants face civil charges relating specifically to their immigration status. However, some immigrants have been charged with identity fraud for using false social security cards, which is a criminal offense. Depending on these charges, detained immigrants may proceed to either civil or criminal court. 

Whatever their circumstances may be, detainees suffer from inhumane treatment in all aspects of their detention